Nov 18 2013 3:00pm

Surprise, Fear, and an Almost Fanatical Dedication to the Womack

Random Acts of Senseless Violence Jack Womack This spring I moved from Vancouver to Toronto, a relocation across three exciting time zones into an apartment half the size of the old one. An early stage of this process involved rehoming hundreds upon hundreds of books. We gave them to friends, to writing colleagues, to editors, and to guys in the housing project down the road. We gave them to neighbours, shop owners, and the guy who brought us our uber-green moving boxes. (He took about thirty titles, and left a note on my site recently to say he and his girlfriend got in a fantastic summer’s reading, and thanks. This made up, slightly, for having to let go of so many treasures.)

At the end of the purge, we had gone from floor to ceiling shelves, many of them stacked double, to having only three bookshelves left. As you can imagine, every single book remaining is a precious object, a pearl among prose drops, something that could never be given up, under any circumstances.

One of those books is Jack Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence.

When I first envisioned writing about this novel for you all, my interior monologue ended up running much like the Monty Python sketch about the Spanish Inquisition.

The coolest thing about RAoSV is… no, wait, the coolest two things. Oh! There is a third unexpected thing...

This is how it goes with true literary love. Let me show you the tip of the cool iceberg:

It’s a kid’s eye view of a very believable apocalypse. This isn’t planet death by alien invasion. It isn’t some post-nuclear anime wasteland (though it does feature a few wide-eyed little girls) or a triffid invasion or a rising tide of zombies. This is the story of global economic stupidity taking down the upper middle class, the sort people who have confused having credit cards with being safe from disaster. It’s told by a teenaged girl who starts out by grappling with calamities like Mom having to fire the maid, a girl who has no idea how far her family has, yet, to fall.

It’s a diary. I love a well-written fictional diary, and they are rare treats. It’s a hard form to pull off—sort of the durian ice cream of POV choices—and even when they go for it, many writers settle for just sprinkling a little journal in, here and there, to flavor more traditional narratives. But there’s something so intimate about a person writing just for themselves, imposing order on their reality by writing down their experiences, coming to that understanding of the world around them, just for themselves, and then keeping it secret. There’s power in reading something written by someone who has no apparent intention of sharing a single word.

Our diarist, our twelve-year-old, is Lola Hart—but everyone calls her Booz. She has just turned twelve, and at first she writes in a breathless, innocent style that is a little heartbreaking from word one. Even before anyone realizes how much trouble she’s in, Womack captures in Booz that essence of a childhood about to end. And he puts us right up against it, positioning us to see every little nuance of her growing process.

But what about the writing. To hell with diaries, you say? Maybe you’re a reader who wants a little flash in their prose, something interesting in the line by line writing. Well! Booz’s voice evolves as the world crumbles around her. How could it not? Her naiveté is peeled away, piece by piece, like tiles being picked off a roof by a hurricane. As it happens, as she changes, the language in this book mutates in ways that resuscitate the validity of trite reviewerly phrases like tour de force.

Give me plot or get out of here! Yes, it’s got a helluva story too. An incredible one. It’s easy, maybe, to think that if you’ve read one coming-of-age tale, you’ve read them all. But the story of Booz, her transformation from sheltered pre-teen to a sort of Lost Girl of the lawless Manhattan streets, is neither typical nor for the faint of heart. It is, in a word, unforgettable.

You don’t have to take my word for it. RAoSV is one of those fantastic, amazing and woefully under-appreciated books that writers love, that we keep pushing on their friends, students, holiday gift recipients, critique groups, and blog readers. Jo Walton told you to read it, back in 2008, and Cory Doctorow echoed her heartily. So go now, go! Scare up a hard copy or download it to your favorite gadget. If you plop yourself down in the nearest comfy chair and read it immediately, you’ll have lots of time to hunt down copies for every single person on your December gift list.


Random Acts of Senseless Violence is available from Grove Press

A.M. Dellamonica has a book’s worth of fiction up here on! Her ‘baby werewolf has two mommies,’ story, “The Cage,” made the Locus Recommended Reading List for 2010. There’s also “Among the Silvering Herd,” the first of a series of stories called The Gales. (Watch for the second of The Gales, “The Ugly Woman of Castello di Putti”!)

Or if you like, check out her sexy novelette, “Wild Things,” that ties into the world of her award winning novel Indigo Springs and its sequel, Blue Magic.

D. Bell
1. SchuylerH
A great post on a great book. As it happens, I have just finished the new edition of Random Acts of Senseless Violence and I would like to say to anyone thinking of trying the book: buy it. Read it. Now. Unforgettable. (and pick up Tom Disch's 334 if you haven't already)
Mark Chu-Carroll
2. MarkCC
I absolutely *hated* RASV. I thought that the concept was good, but the way the main character changed was far, far too fast to be believable. It's also felt like it was playing with stereotypes for all of the background characters.
Steven Jacques Roby
3. Steven Jacques Roby
I'm in the "it's a masterpiece" camp. It's also, I think, better than Ambient, Terraplane, et al, because it adds emotional depth to the great prose, plots, and ideas.
Chuk Goodin
4. Chuk
I read it when Jo Walton recommended it. Loved it. Neat setting but the voice and the central character are what really make it.
Steven Jacques Roby
5. Beverly B
This sounds amazing, Alyx. I look forward to reading this for the first time.
Takeshi Kovacs
6. SpaceCase
I finished reading this book yesterday and I'm throwing my voice in with the "RAoSV is an overlooked masterpiece" chorus. The book packs an emotional punch that will have me reeling for a while. I have experienced firsthand what being dumped from a comfortable middle-class lifestyle into unexpected social and economic chaos can do to a sheltered adolescent's world view and I think Womack captures this transition nearly perfectly.

To the person who thinks the background characters were poorly rendered stereotypes...I respectfully disagree. If you are referring to Iz, Jude and Whizzie (correct me if I'm wrong), firstly, they weren't exactly in the background and I'd argue that to anyone who has experienced street-level life in a large American city these three girls will seem very familiar. Or is it other "background characters" you are referring to?

Also, you'd be surprised how fast a kid's world view and character can change when life circumstances change radically. Remember when you were young and the summer holidays (two months) seemed like an eternity? To a 12-year-old one year is a very long time.

Anyway, that's my $0.02. If you haven't read this novel yet do yourself a favor and put it on your must-read list.
Steven Jacques Roby
7. kellyoyo
Oh yes! A masterpiece. One of my desert island books. Vivid, totally engrossing, and utterly heartbreaking.

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